Fathy Ghanem’s great character in the novel The Man Who Lost His Shadow, journalist Youssef Abdel Hamid Al-Suweifi, does not appear to have much in common with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. There is no similarity between the way that Al-Suweifi climbed to the top after much effort and training on his part, and the dramatic way that the 30-something prince suddenly found himself at the top. The latter suggests that there was a swift political coup, unprecedented in Saudi Arabia since the British placed the country in the hands of the ruling family a century ago and guaranteed its protection. He is now the de facto top man of a vast country floating on a sea of oil.
I don’t intend to reproduce a uniform image of the two men, nor to compare them, as there is nothing to base this on. However, by looking at the details, we know that the fictional Al-Suweifi was aiming to overcome his poor background to reach a high position without taking anyone or anything else into consideration; he was determined to get to the top whatever the cost. Bin Salman, however, seems to be holding on to his family’s past, trying to keep it for himself to the extent of excluding other princes in order to be the undisputed leader. The similarity, it seems, is the sudden loss of their shadow, their conscience, which had been very promising in the beginning.
The prince’s loss of any conscience was preceded by events that suggested that this was going to happen. Many commentators wrote that Bin Salman’s desire to be king would be very strong, prompting him to do what the wise men of this time would not think of doing precisely because they have a conscience about the potential impact on others. They knew that the Crown Prince had two options: establish oppression and coercion force, and hot-headed schemes, or work to develop social, economic and even political change for the betterment of his country, bringing it out of the darkness of history into the light.